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08th July 2016

Playing with Risk

The Care Inspectorate, which is the care regulator in Scotland, has issued a position statement on risk taking in care services for children. The policy was launched in association with Play Scotland, which is a representative and advocacy organisation to promote the benefits of play. The Scottish Out of School Care Network (SOSCN) was also a partner in the launch event.

The implications and lessons for risk taking can be relevant for all services, across all ages and other dividing boundaries. We all play, enjoy recreation, and seek an element of challenge and difficulty in all our activities! And there is a counterforce of being over-cautious about risk, ignoring the benefits of properly risk assessed and managed activities which are challenging yet therefore more rewarding.

The Care Inspectorate position

The regulatory position on risk was launched by the Care Inspectorate in January 2016. It supports a change from services having a risk averse approach, to one of a positive risk-benefit analysis. This is consistent with an ongoing shift in care regulation in Scotland, a change of emphasis from measuring inputs to one where good outcomes and experiences are the goal. The extent to which a service follows the latter course can often determine how well it is graded in its inspection visits, and just as importantly how it promotes the wellbeing and development of the people they serve.

The Care Inspectorate first registered a forest nursery in Fife in 2008, and outdoor schools, as well as outdoor sessions in conventional schools, are flourishing. These services are quoted by the Care Inspectorate as contributing to the development of a proportionate approach to risk.

Safe services?

Anyone working in care services can probably immediately quote examples of 'safety' measures which worked against the people using the service.  I recall visiting a care home where all residents were served tea and coffee at break time in plastic mugs, with plastic plates. This may or may not avoid some breakages, but it certainly worked against the dignity, in my view, of the people there.

I also recall a care home where an elderly person who had loved to bake was unable to do so, for 'insurance purposes'. With gentle persuasion, the manager looked at the situation more closely and was eventually able to allow the service users to have limited, and supervised access to the kitchen where they could exercise their baking skills. The person who first raised this was overjoyed, and other people also benefited.

I think these sorts of situations shows how risk-benefit analysis should be our first port of call, rather than a short-sighted, one-size-fits-all approach of attempting to eliminate all risk.

Scottish government position

The Minister for Children and Young People attended the launch event, and drew attention the Scottish Play Strategy. The minister stated that regulated services should be given:

"...the confidence to provide good quality, challenging play opportunities for children in their care. Real life experiences for children cannot be free of risk; from the very beginning children learn from trial and error, falling and getting up, testing their own boundaries and this enables them to develop their own coping strategies and resilience."

All care services can learn from this: risk is part of a full life, and we can manage and live with it to provide outcomes which lead to as fulfilling a life as possible for everyone.


Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist

Tony began care work as a care assistant in care of the elderly here in Scotland in the 1970s. He very much enjoyed promoting activities, interests and good basic care. After a gap to gain a social work qualification, he worked in management of care services, latterly as a peripatetic manager which gave him experience of a wide range of services. Read more

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